The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music gifts, Part 5: More best classical CDs of 2009 — but in the end it’s the music, not the performer, that matters | December 24, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Christmas Eve.

Given the severe weather problems in so much of the U.S. and the world, a lot of people will be looking for last-minute gifts relating to classical music, a lot of it on-line as well as in “bricks-and-mortar” stores. 

So here are some suggestions.

But first, let me make a point: Generally speaking, it’s the music more than the performance that counts. So don’t shy away from older releases or unknown artists. The important thing is to be exposed to the specific piece of classical music, especially if it is music that is new to the listener.

My general rule: If it is good enough to be recorded, chances are it is good enough to be listened to.

Say, for example, you are looking for the acclaimed new release of Schubert’s famous and movingly season-appropriate song cycle “Die Winterreise” (Winter Journey) with tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis on the Harmonia Mundi label (below).

If you find it, great. But if you can’t, you won’t go wrong–and might even do better —  with one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s versions or Ian Bostridge or  Thomas Quasthoff or Matthias Goerner or many others.

For specific gift suggestions, you can check out previous postings on this blog, including the list of Grammy classical nominees.

But here are some other sites with Best of the Year lists for 2009 that might help you.

Sometimes there are biases (British sites, for example, tend to favor British artists and releases). But if you compare and contrast various lists, you’ll see it was a good year with a lot to choose from.

In all categories:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=980CE1DA133FF934A15752C1A96F9C8B63

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/listPage.jsp?list_id=1625&page_size=100

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121060657

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000448551

If you like contemporary classical music:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Century-Classical-fourth-quarter/lm/RAD15KJP3ZZI1

If you are looking to help someone build a library of basics:

http://www.classicstoday.com/features/100cds.asp

Critic Alex Ross’ picks on his blog “The Rest Is Noise”:

http://www.therestisnoise.com/cd_picks/

I also hear and read that big-screen, high-definition TVs are one of the big in-demand gift items this year.

I know from personal experience that the new technology adds a whole new dimension to classical music DVDs. Recitals and chamber music and symphony orchestras are terrific to watch and see — it was Stravinsky who said one should listen with the eyes as well as the ears — and opera is a natural.

I love watching as well as listening to piano recitals. But classical DVDs with digital pictures and digital sound are a very big improvement over VCR tapes for nay genre. Trust me. They hold you eye and ear.

So happy shopping, happy listening and Happy Holidays to you all.


Posted in Classical music

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